While I was sleeping off my Napa-headbutt-induced apoplexy (again), the Catalans Dragons, from Perpignan in the south of France, won the Challenge Cup at Wembley. They became the first non-English team to do so since the competition’s inception in 1896. It’s an amazing milestone in the game’s reconstruction in France and the slow globlisation of the sport. In the last two seasons, we’ve seen:
- The first pro rugby league team in the Americas
- PNG Hunters won the Queensland Cup
- Fiji and Tonga made the World Cup semi-finals
- Catalan Dragons won the Challenge Cup
For the rugby league lefties – as Mascord likes to call them – all that’s required now is a Warriors NRL premiership, which remains a possibility but perhaps not likely, the promotion of at least Toronto, if not also London and Toulouse, to the Super League and a couple of successful end of season Tests. Should we at least get a Wolfpack promotion and Test matches, we could call 2018 a qualified success.
And then Souths won a scrum against the feed, which made me forget all the other items of interest that’s happened in the NRL this year, e.g. Immortals, retirements of future Immortals, topsy-turvy results, Blues winning Origin and a new women’s premiership.
What a time to be a rugby league fan.
The ladder doesn’t tell the whole story. Sometimes, we can see other things – like hope, luck and disappointment – in the statistics. That’s what why we have the Indices.
Don’t get what you’re looking at? See the primer.
The minor premiership race has resolved itself pretty neatly. If the Storm beat the Panthers next week, and they really should, then they will win the minor premiership. Otherwise, if any of the other top four teams win and the Storm lose, they are all a shot. Roosters face the Eels, Souths are up against Wests and the Sharks have the toughest assignment, taking on a resurgent Bulldogs outfit. The Sharks would need a lot to go right with their for-and-against looking pretty weak against the Storm’s.
Everyone else is out of the running. But like the 2013-15 Roosters before them, the 2016-18 Storm winning three minor premierships on the trot does not necessarily translate to winning three major premierships.
Do you smell that? It’s the palpable scent of hope emanating from Brisbane. If you can’t smell it, it’s that one in six premiership shot that the Finals Stocky has spat out this week.
Having now beaten the Roosters and the Rabbitohs*, the Broncos’ form is right up there. Better yet, with the Sharks due to face off against the Storm in week one, that should drop Melbourne into a sudden death semi final against New Zealand. Unfortunately they will probably win that, getting through to a preliminary final against whoever wins the coin flip between the Roosters and Rabbitohs, probably the Roosters I guess.
On the other side of the bracket, Broncos to dispatch the woeful Dragons, setting up a game against the Roosters/Rabbitohs loser, before meeting the Sharks in the prelim. The Broncos, on their day, have the measure of every top eight team (except the Storm) and getting to a grand final after some of the dogshit served up this year would be testimony to the random nature of rugby league and the 2018 season in particular.
Realistically**, the Broncos will be crushed by the Sea Eagles next week, again, and Sydney and Souths will restore some of their rating and we’ll be none the wiser about where this all heading. We are more likely than anything else right now to see a rematch of the 2016 grand final.
*Yes yes, missing their backs. **Also I felt this was possible at several points last season and the Broncos still hit that goddamn Storm roadblock and were turfed out of the premiership in extremely emphatic fashion.
Look at the massive lead the Bulldogs have piled on in the Hope Index after winning four from their last five games. I’m not quite sure how the results will filter through but the Bulldogs face the Sharks and the Cowboys face the Titans. Given the former will probably be a Sharks win and the latter a Cowboys win, we may see the Hope Index lead change again. The way the Bulldogs are playing now, and assuming that their roster issues are behind them, bodes pretty well for the 2019 season.
The Eels pretty much have the wooden spoon wrapped up. Mathematically only the Sea Eagles and the Cowboys are yet to win enough games to kick clear of Parramatta. Manly face Brisbane, Parramatta will play Sydney and North Queensland have the easiest assignment against the Gold Coast. It would be something of a miracle for the Eels to get out of this jam with a win against the Roosters and a heavy loss to the Sea Eagles at their second home ground. There’s 52 points in it; even if Parra get a comfortable six or ten point win, the Broncos are going to have to destroy Manly for that gap to be closed.
I, for one, hope we see history made with the Sea Eagles taking their first spoon but it seems very unlikely.
The Broncos have benefited massively from some good fortune this year, out-playing their Pythagorean performance by a two whole wins and that’s not mentioning the eight very close wins. Wests have likewise benefited from good fortune. If Pythagoras had his say, the Tigers would be on ten wins.
But as much as Lady Luck has smiled on the Ponies and the Tigers, she has absolutely belted some other teams. There are five teams that are as unlucky or unluckier than the Broncos have been lucky. North Queensland should be another two wins up (Suncorp goalposts notwithstanding), as should Manly and Canterbury. That said, the last bloody thing this season needs is for it to be any closer.
The Titans and the Sharks can take their Disappointment Ratings negative with wins next week, which would be pretty good for Cronulla considering the lofty standards set before them at the season start. The Gold Coast can take less comfort given that they were only supposed to get somewhere around eight and nine wins and they’ve just about managed to fumble their way across that line.
The Warriors are nearly five wins better than we expected at the season start. That’s a bloody good effort for the New Zealand side, irrespective of what comes in the finals.
Intrust Super Cup Results
That’s a wrap on the regular season and it came down to the wire. Norths lost to Ipswich, which gave the Jets enough points to get ahead of the Hunters on the ladder and knock the defending premiers out of the finals race. Redcliffe secured the minor premiership with an extremely convincing win over the Falcons. Last year’s other grand finalist won’t be playing finals footy this year either.
We are now left with six teams and I don’t have any particular attachment to any of them but here’s where I see them sitting:
- Redcliffe: Minor premiers for the first time since two years ago but a real threat for their first Queensland Cup premiership since 2006 (!). Stocked with Broncos talent and have been one of the top rated teams by Euclid since the early third of the season. Beatable if off their day but those are increasingly rare.
- Burleigh: Just one point off the Dolphin’s total. The Bears were early season pace setters but consistent throughout the season. Have managed a consistent lineup that hasn’t been restocked and then raided by the Titans.
- Townsville: A late lapse in form at the end of the season has seen them drop out of the top two after leading through the middle third. Best points diff in the competition. The Blackhawks will need a little luck to get through the early rounds against the Jets, and then probably the Pride, but they can take on the top two.
- Pride: I don’t know what to make of the Pride. They don’t seem like they belong after a pretty ordinary season last year but here they are, scraping by. This week’s draw against the Seagulls was enough to secure a home elimination final, which will be a big help.
- Easts: Rode a huge last minute surge in form, largely brought on by dropped Storm players bolstering the ranks. Without them, as we saw against Burleigh, they are paper thin. Whether they can topple the Pride will depend on their team sheet and with the Storm’s injuries, I’m not even confident Drinkwater will be available.
- Ipswich: Snuck in the back door but have been far from impressive from what I’ve seen. I’m not a big believer in the Jets but they did enough to get here and now face a long road trip north.
There’s a clear top triumvirate and a bottom trio and I don’t think the bottom three will get past week two. Then again, the form lines in 2018 are a bit more even:
- Jets and Blackhawks are one win each
- Tigers have won both games against the Pride
- Burleigh and Redcliffe split their matches
It’s going to be a tough fought finals series with no certainty ahead.